Your Excellency Li Yuanchao, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, Your Excellency Chen Hao, Governor of the Yunnan Province, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Let me start by sincerely thanking the Provincial Leadership of Yunnan for the warm welcome and excellent arrangements for all visiting delegations.
Since arriving in Kunming yesterday, I have been struck by the beauty of the Spring City and the generosity of its industrious residents.
The tremendous effort that has gone into organising this international exposition, fair and forum deserves thanks and praise. Each year, the event attracts more vendors and buyers than the previous edition. The event also brings together China’s leadership and high-level participation from across South Asia.
The Maldives maybe the smallest in South Asia by population, but I assure you that our delegation here in Kunming this year bears no correlation to our small size. The Maldivian contingent, led by my Economic Minister, includes highest ranking officials of our state enterprises and many of our most dynamic private sector businesses.
Mr. Vice President, Excellencies;
Let me, at the outset, put Sino-Maldives relations into perspective,
so that you may all appreciate the tremendous enthusiasm of our corporate sector to become part of this important regional event here in Kunming.
Sifting through the sands of time, we can confirm that the Maldives and China have indeed been friends and trading partners since times immemorial. Ancient Chinese scriptures and records from the Tang Dynasty that date back to 660 AD make reference to the King of the Maldives sending gifts to the then Chinese Emperor Kao-Tsung. The great Chinese Muslim admiral, diplomat and explorer Zheng He visited the Maldives on more than one occasion during the 15th Century.
Our strategic location on the Indian Ocean meant that the Maldives was a frequent and welcome stopover for voyagers between the East and the West. Evidence of the frequent interactions and transactions between our Chinese and Maldivian forefathers can be found today at the National Museum in Male’, in the form of beautiful pieces of ancient Chinese earthenware and pottery.
In the contemporary post-independence history of the Maldives, China has played a pivotal role in the socioeconomic development of the country. On the 26th of next month, the Maldivian people celebrate 50 years as an independent sovereign nation state. From being among the poorest and most impoverished countries in the world at the time of Independence, we can proudly proclaim today that we have graduated from the list of UN’s Least Developed Countries, to that of a Middle Income Country. Our development statistics continue to be among the best in the region. Multilateral agencies confirm that we can expect continued and sustained growth in the time ahead.
Our development advances owe much to our closest friends, such as China, and our faithful SAARC neighbours.
The tremendous support and assistance of our bilateral partners, including China, played a pivotal role in our contemporary development. As we look ahead to the future with immense confidence and satisfaction, we are eager to further cement our ties with our sincere and trusted friend, China.
Mr. Vice President, Excellencies;
China’s role in our current growth is unmistakable. Chinese holidaymakers account for over a third of annual tourism arrivals in the Maldives.
It is also among the highest value and fastest growing markets, with a staggering 92% of visitors coming to our serene shores for the first time.
Some of the most important landmarks in the capital, including the National Museum and the Headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were constructed with donor assistance from the Chinese Government. China has also made a significant contribution to our important housing infrastructure sector. Furthermore, numerous key development mega projects are being financed and constructed by Chinese banks and corporations, respectively.
A few months ago, the Maldives became one of the first partners in the joint venture initiative to develop the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route envisioned by President Xi Jinping.
We also took our place this year among the founders of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which will, in the near future,address the real and urgent need for capital and infrastructure investment across the developing world.
Excellencies, Corporate Leaders;
Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with President Xi Jinping on two occasions, once in Nanjing, China, and the second in Male’, Maldives. At these meetings, I was able to confirm the progressive and mutually-beneficial foreign policy vision of President Xi.
It was during these visits that President Xi shared with us his ambitions to construct the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route as part of the Road and Belt Initiative.
The result of these fruitful interactions was the establishment of the “Future-Oriented All-Round Friendly and Cooperative Partnership” between our two countries, which has brought vitality to our bilateral and development ties.
Sino-Maldives relations are, today, at an all-time high. Since the exchange of leadership visits in 2014, we have established a Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation, as well as a Joint Mechanism on Cooperation in Fisheries.
MoUs have been signed on tourism, maritime cooperation, defence and a number of ambitious infrastructure development programmes.
I have always believed that economics and not politics present us with the pragmatic solutions needed to overcome our current development challenges. My people voted me into office in November 2013 with a clear mandate to transform the country’s economic fortunes. Creating jobs for our youthful population, addressing the macroeconomic and fiscal difficulties of the previous five years, and reigniting investor confidence continue to be at the very top of my agenda. What was unmistakable was that our quest to scale further heights in development could not be attained without an immediate and extensive improvement in infrastructure.
China, as a close friend and trusted partner, has, through the visionary policies of President Xi Jinping, presented to the Maldives and, its South Asian neighbours the golden opportunity of infrastructure development. The comprehensive policy instruments that are being introduced by the Chinese Government, including the AIIB, the Silk Road Fund, Joint Commissions and FTAs, are indeed mutually-beneficial to both China and its South Asian neighbours.
The new Millennium ushered in the Century of Asia. No country in this great continent showcases the industry, the potential, the vision and the courage of the people more so than China. Transcending from the outdated geopolitics of suspicion and imperialism, China has presented to the world a clear vision of “win-win” cooperation, based on trust, sincerity and support.
The initiative to jointly build the Belt and Road, embracing the trend toward a multipolar world, economic globalization, cultural diversity and greater IT application, is designed to uphold the global free trade regime and the open world economy in the spirit of regional cooperation.
The Belt and Road Initiative culminates from the understanding that China’s economy, which is the largest in the world, is connected with that of the rest of the world.
The Initiative acknowledges that the already rapid growth of the Chinese economy can only be sustained through the opening up of and deeper integration with the world economic system.
As co-beneficiaries of the Initiative, the Maldives and other partners in South Asia can look forward to all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks, and the realisation of diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development.
Excellencies, Corporate Leaders;
Since assuming the office of President in late 2013, my Government has been implementing a number of bold policies towards the creation of jobs for the youth, and promoting youth entrepreneurship and empowerment.
We have pioneered on transformational infrastructure development projects, including the dredging of the second phase of Hulhumale’ – the “Youth City”,a bridge connectivity between Male’ and the airport island of Hulhule’, as well as the development of the Male’ Port.
I note with immense gratitude and deep satisfaction that civil works on the bridge connectivity between Male’ and Hulhule’ – which both I and President Xi agreed on coining as the “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” – will commence at the end of this year.
Work on expanding the capacity of the gateway to the Maldives, the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, will also begin soon. We hope to increase the capacity of the airport to 5 million passengers, and thereby facilitate our collective endeavour to attain the goal of welcoming over a million Chinese visitors annually. I note that a major portion of the airport development will also bear the hallmark of Chinese cooperation.
Other key development projects, including the longest road in the country and an ambitious social housing programme, are being undertaken by Chinese contractors and with Chinese financing. An ambitious project to address our future energy needs up to 2050 is also in its planning stages by a Chines State Corporation.
The outlook is bright for the Maldives. Investor confidence in the country is today at an unprecedented and previously unattained level.
We are implementing a number of strategic measures to entice major investors to the Maldives, including some of China’s largest overseas contractors and investors. We have recently passed a Special Economic Zones Act, which gives new incentives for large-scale investment projects.
In April of 2014, the Maldives held its First International Investment Forum in Singapore, where we launched five mega projects of strategic importance. I am pleased that, one year on, work on all of these projects are underway and at various stages of progress. As can be expected, several of these projects are benefiting from Chinese support and assistance.
After the resounding success of the First International Investment Forum in Singapore, we are now planning to hold a second edition, this time in Beijing, this year.
We hope to promote our future development projects, while tapping into the vast trade and investment potential offered to South Asia by the Chinese Government.
Furthermore, the ongoing dialogue to establish a Free Trade Area with China and expanding the trade benefits that we enjoy with India through the SAFTA mechanism of SAARC will further enhance the investment potential of the Maldives, especially in the trading and shipping sectors.
President Xi, during his historic State Visit to the Maldives in September last year, invited the Maldives to “journey with China on the high-speed bullet train to progress and prosperity”.
This was an invitation that my people accepted wholeheartedly.
We needed no second invitation!
With our First Class tickets, we have taken our seats in the Maldives’ cabin.
We are belted up and awaiting the Station Master’s signal.
I invite you all to join our journey!